Buddha was an illumined soul. This is what Sri Ramakrishna says about him: “Do you know what a Buddha is? To become one with bodha (enlightenment) by continually meditating on it - to become transformed into Pure Intelligence Itself.”
Buddha’s answer to the cessation of all sufferings in the world is to follow the Noble Eight-fold way. Of these the first and foremost is to develop Right View or Right Understanding. This is known as Viveka in Vedanta.
What is Right View?
1. Right View is to distinguish between the real and the unreal, the right and the wrong, the good and the evil. Right View is not mere intellectual activity. It is to know that one is divine and strive to manifest it every moment of one’s life.
2. Right View is to understand and accept the four Noble Aryan Truths taught by Buddha: (a) Life in the world is full of suffering; (b) There is a cause of this suffering; (c) That it is possible to stop suffering; (d) That there is a path which leads to the cessation of suffering.
3. Right View is to know that the goal of life is to attain Nirvana, to manifest one’s Buddha nature.
4. Right View is to recognise the ephemeral, fleeting nature of samsara i.e., life in the world.
5. Right View is to understand the truth of suffering. Buddha taught us that life is full of suffering. He divides suffering into two types: existential and karmic. Existential suffering is common to every being and unavoidable. Existential suffering is inevitable, inescapable. Everything that is born must go through,
what the Vedanta calls, the six-fold change. Karmic suffering is the result of one’s own evil deeds and can be avoided through right living.
6. Right View is to know that there is a way out and be free by treading it.
Most of us have a wrong view. The sad truth is, even though Buddha’s teaching is available to all of us, we do not wish to have the Right View.
According to Buddha everything has a Buddha nature, all are potential Buddhas. Only few are aware of it.
Buddha says, “Verily, there is the unborn, the unarisen, the unmade, the uncomposed. Were it not for this unborn, unarisen, unmade, uncomposed, escape from this world of the born, the arisen, the made, the composed would not be possible.”
Everyone is a future Buddha. Hence the goal of life can only be to manifest this Buddha nature and become free from samsara. Buddha called this attainment of the unborn and the unarisen as Nirvana.
Even after reading and hearing it is not easy to acquire Right View. It needs time, quietness and contemplation. Time and quietness is not what man has in today’s world. A whirl of endless and mindless activity imposed by oneself as well as by the society in which one lives prevents one from developing Right View. Too much activity makes the mind even more restless; it creates endless desires; even worse it makes this world seem to be the only reality by preventing one from thinking of higher things.
Buddha taught Nirvana as the only way to put an end to all suffering. Nirvana involves contemplation accompanied by right living.
Karmic suffering rests solely on our shoulders. Each one must experience the results of one’s actions. Though Buddha did not speak of God, he, often, spoke of the law of Karma. He used to say that the results of one’s actions follow one as the wheels of a cart follow the foot-steps of the bullock.
If individuals or nations are suffering they must accept their responsibility. Ignorance or disbelief cannot nullify the effect of the law of Karma. If man lives a moral and self-controlled life he will have some happiness in life but cannot escape old age, disease, and death. Some amount of suffering is inevitable even if one lives a noble life.
To cope with suffering one must have a higher vision. Dr. Carl Jung discovered this truth many years ago. He said: “I have learned to see that the greatest and most important problems of life are
all fundamentally insoluble. They must be so, because they express the necessary polarity inherent in every self- regulating system. They can never be solved but only outgrown.”
(The Secret of the Golden Flower)
But for those who are sincere and willing to strive, Buddha has shown the way: Nirvana; there is no other way.
Nirvana is the summum bonum of Buddhism.
The literal meaning of the word Nirvana is ‘total extinction.’ Regarding Nirvana there is a great deal of ignorance. For many people Nirvana implies a state of nothingness, absolute annihilation.
Nirvana is beyond words and thought, beyond all description and expression. What is Moksha to the Hindu, the Tao to the Chinese mystic, Eternal Life to the followers of Jesus, that is Nirvana to the Buddhist. To attain to this Nirvana is the single thought that moves all Buddhists to follow the teachings of Buddha. Nirvana is Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, the true nature of every being. This is what Buddhists call the Buddha Nature, inherent in every being.
Nirvana is the goal, the summum bonum of all Buddhists. Nirvana is one’s true being, a state to be realized here and now; it is to go beyond all dualities.
The literal meaning of the word Nirvana is total extinction of samsara. To explain the suffering of samsara Buddha compares life in samsara to a flame:
“The whole world is in flames. “By what fire is it kindled? By the fire of lust, of resentment, of delusion; by the fire of birth, old age, death, pain, lamentation, sorrow, grief and despair it is kindled.” This process of transmigration is samsara.
Nirvana is also explained as the extinction of the fire of lust, hatred, and delusion. As long as one is bound up by craving or attachment, this leads to the eternal cycle of birth and death. When all forms of craving are eradicated, Karmic forces cease to operate, and one attains Nirvana, escaping the cycle of birth and death. The Buddhist conception of Nirvana is overcoming the ever-recurring cycle of life and death and not merely an escape from sin and hell.
Buddha taught each to become what he really is down in his deepest being, what in moments of exaltation he discovers himself to be. All men want to get rid of suffering and want to be happy forever. Buddha said he would make them happy.
He said let men get rid of all hatred and malice, all indulgence in lower desires, all lying and evil thoughts. Let them substitute them for good thoughts and worthy desires, feelings of charity and compassion, and be serene and composed. Let men purify their thoughts and desires and so get in touch with that Universal which is everywhere in all things, and all the happiness they desire will be theirs.
The way to Nirvana
The way to Nirvana is the Noble Eightfold way. Nirvana alone can put an end to all suffering. Only a few people desire Nirvana. Even for those who wish to live happily in this world the noble eightfold path is the only way.
This Noble Eightfold Path is a practical guideline to ethical and spiritual development with the goal of freeing the individual from attachments and delusions; and it finally leads to understanding the truth about all things. Together with the Four Noble Truths it constitutes the gist of Buddhism.
Emphasis is put on the practical aspect, because it is only through practice that one can attain a higher level of existence and finally reach Nirvana.
Right View is the corner stone on which the whole edifice of spiritual life is built. Right View is the beginning and the end of the path, it simply means to see and to understand things as they really are and to realise the Four Noble Truths. As such, right view is the cognitive aspect of wisdom. It means to see things through, to grasp the impermanent and imperfect nature of worldly objects and ideas, and to understand the law of karma and karmic conditioning. Right View begins with the intuitive insight that all beings are subject to suffering and it ends with complete understanding of the true nature of all things. Since our view of the world forms our thoughts and our actions, right view yields right thoughts and right actions.
Right View should be followed by the practice of right determination and right living, etc., which we will discuss in the next issue.
Jan - Feb 2011
(to be continued)